Nepal royals hold stakes in Indian JVs

Sadly, the king's biggest partner in the murky deals is Prabhakar Shumher Rana who owns 7 of the companies.

india Updated: Aug 30, 2006 18:36 IST

Despite strenuous denials by at least two leading Indian joint ventures in Nepal - including tobacco giant ITC - a probe committee has informed the Nepal government that King Gyanendra and his kin hold major shares in 17 companies.

Amongst the 17 companies whose yearly revenue is estimated to run into billions of rupees are Surya Nepal, ITC's venture in Nepal with British American Tobacco and a Nepali partner Hotel Soaltee Crowne Plaza, in which India's Oberoi Group has a six percent stake.

Also in the list is Himalayan Goodricke Private Ltd, a JV with India's Goodricke company and National Biscuit and Confectionery (P) Ltd, Nepal's first biscuit company in which India's Britannia Industries began technical collaboration from 1980.

The other 17 companies include a controversial five-star hotel, Hotel de l'Annapurna, in which the Taj Group of India held a stake but sought to divest it after pulling out of a management contract about two years ago, and a power company, in which the American investment company was forced to sell its shares to its Nepali partners after non payment of dues by the state-owned Nepal Electricity Authority.

Though Surya Nepal and Soaltee Crowne Plaza, which in the past were often shut down by Maoists due to the royal link, always denied the connection, a parliamentary committee formed to detail the royal family's assets to bring them under the tax net, had the link corroborated Sunday after the industry, commerce and supplies ministry sent in its report.

According to the preliminary report, though the majority shares in the companies were in the name of the king and his kin, a large percentage was transferred to his daughter Prerana and others during the 15-month direct rule of the monarch, apparently to hide the identity of the real owners.

A former royalist minister, his wife and the son of a former general and aide de camp were among such beneficiaries.

The culture of reciprocity and anonymity in business dealings flourished during King Gyanendra's control, with the monarch compelling the government to pay millions to a royal aunt, Princess Helen, ostensibly for medical treatment. But as the emerging facts show now, probably for her complicity in his murky business deals.

She is also one of the owners, at least on paper, of Hotel de l'Annapurna, in which the parliamentary panel has found shares in the name of the palace.

According to the findings, the king's biggest partner was Prabhakar Shumher Rana, whose groups comprise at least seven of the 17 companies. Ironically, relations between Rana and the palace cooled considerably after Crown Prince Paras and his drinking pals assaulted Rana's son Siddharth about two years ago.

The 17 companies also include a JV with British Gorkha Lawrie, a travel agency, more hotels and a vanaspati ghee company.

Usha Rana nee Scindia, sister of late Indian politician Madhav Rao Scindia, was associated with one of the 17 companies in the past. Gorkha Travels was founded by her husband Pashupati Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana, the king and another partner.

However, the present owners are three different people, including Ajay Keshar Simha, son of former general and ADC Bharat Keshar Simha, who also heads the controversial World Hindu Federation that had been supporting the king's power grab last year and was one of the major beneficiaries of the royal regime.

First Published: Aug 28, 2006 12:12 IST